Tibet's new, Harvard-educated political leader said that although he was not encouraging Tibetans to burn themselves to death, it was his sacred duty to show support for the men and women who have chosen to take drastic steps.
The 11 instances of self-immolation all took place in the Sichuan province of Tibet, an area rife with prominent Tibetan monasteries that have been smothered by what the Dalai Lama calls "cultural genocide". Around 2000 Chinese officials have taken seige of Kirti monastery, the scene of a large number of the self-immolations. Heavy-handed security measures and interference in the monasteries has prevented monks from freely practicing their religion, subsquently leading them commit the desperate act of self-immolation.
The information blockade imposed by the Chinese within Eastern Tibet has isolated it from the outside world. Sangay said an increased Chinese military presence around monasteries was ‘undeclared martial law'.
"Once a protest takes place it becomes our sacred duty to show solidarity and support, support for the voice that they raise, so the life that they sacrifice or the torture that they endure do not go in vain," Sangay told the international media. "My duty as a political leader is to echo or if possible magnify these voices, with sadness and pain obviously".
China still claims that Tibetans in the Sichuan province are free to practice their religion. They have publicly accused Tibet's spiritual leader of abetting the self-immolations, deeming them acts of "terrorism in disguise". But the truth of the matter is that the Tibetans are harming no one but themselves.
On Wednesday, His Holiness the 17th Karmapa Lama in Exile, one of the senior-most monks of the Tibetan Buddhist heirarchy, appealed to Tibetans to preserve their lives and stop resorting to the act of self-immolation. Sangay echoed his sentiment, saying "We want Tibetan people to live, we want Tibetan people to lead, definitely. But... the motivation is for Tibet and for Tibetan people and their intention is also very clear, not to harm anyone," he said.
Dr. Sangay is the first democratically elected leader of the Tibetan people after His Holiness the Dalai Lama retired his role as political head of Tibet. Dr. Sangay reiterated that he and His Holiness the Dalai Lama are not seeking Tibet's independence from China, only meaningful autonomy for their homeland. He said China's increasingly heavy-handed rule after six decades of occupation was to blame for the monk suicides.